Recent Mason grad helps the Nationals baseball team stay in play during the pandemic

Hunter Kelly. Photo provided

When Hunter Kelly came to George Mason University, he knew right away that he wanted to go into the sport management program in the College of Education and Human Development. Little did he know that by the time he was in his senior year, he would be helping the Washington Nationals with their COVID-19 protocols to keep players and staff as safe as possible.

During Kelly’s final semester at Mason last spring, he took a 12-credit internship at the Nationals, which he said led to many long but productive days through spring training and beyond, screening individuals for COVID-19 symptoms, helping establish COVID-19 safety protocols, and assisting with contact tracing for all home and away games that even required him to travel with the team.

“It was a rewarding experience to keep a team healthy,” said Kelly, 22, who has been hired as the Nationals’ assistant clubhouse manager. “I felt really involved and like my role was important to keeping the team going.”

The Nationals managed to play out the season during the pandemic, despite one major COVID outbreak right after spring training.

“That outbreak made me a little nervous at first, and it made me realize that with COVID, you can do everything right, but it will still find a way to affect you,” said Kelly. “Things are much better now with 85% of our players and staff vaccinated, but we still need to be very careful.”

Kelly is no stranger to professional sports. His father has held a variety of jobs within the National Football League, so Kelly grew up moving around a bit as his father found employment within various teams.

Kelly played baseball and football in high school. He knew he didn’t have the skills to grow as a player, but also knew he loved being in the professional sports environment. So the Ashburn, Virginia, resident looked for a college where he could pursue his interest in sport management.

Kelly said that Mason was the best choice for him because of its reputation in the field and because of its location close to Washington, D.C., and major sports teams.

“I knew that at Mason I would have the best opportunities to excel in what I wanted to do with my life,” said Kelly.

Throughout his years at Mason, Kelly worked part-time at the Washington Football Team and the Nationals.

“Hunter Kelly took full advantage of the university’s proximity to major professional sports franchises,” said Craig Esherick, associate director of the Center for Sport Management and academic program coordinator for sport management. “He’s mature beyond his years. Hunter has developed the ability to communicate and work with literally everyone in the organizations in which he worked, which is a rare quality to find in someone so young.”

Kelly said he was thrilled when he was hired full-time by the Nationals and described it as a dream come true.

“I worked my whole life to get to this point,” said Kelly. “I love going in to work every day. There’s always something new.”